Minutes after Tom Brady went down with what would turn out to be a season ending injury during the first half of last Sunday’s Chiefs-Patriots game, my son – with his normal concern for his fellow human beings – broke the silence.

Silence because of my conflicted emotions. I am a huge Chiefs fan and Brady with some sort of minor injury just severe enough to keep him out of the rest of the game could mean a huge upset for the Chiefs. But I also had just drafted Brady in the first round of my fantasy football league and a major injury meant not only disaster for him but also for my fantasy chances.

The Chiefs will still lose, Dad. Let’s go. We need to get to GameStop.

GameStop because the long awaited Spore video game had just been released and that had become his new top priority. Created by Will Wright, developer of the The Sims game franchise, Spore offers a different type of experience than that offered by “traditional” video games.

Over at Remote Access, Clarence Fisher describes the concept behind the game:

Spore is a completely new type of game that Will Wright is calling a Massive Single Player Online Game as opposed to games like World of Warcraft that are Massive Multi Player Online Games. Starting the game, a player begins with a single celled organism which they need to evolve. At critical points you will have control over what the organism eats, how it hunts to survive and what other organisms it crosses with, allowing it to evolve and change, gaining new traits. Eventually, your single celled creature becomes a multi celled creature, which builds a civilization for itself, gains new technologies such as spacecraft and then travels the stars to other planets.

A New York Times article describing the game focuses on the science Wright used to create the game. Wright himself presented an early version of the game during the February 2007 TED talks.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0_U9Tx17RA]

Promised for over two years, Spore has some nice potential for social studies teachers. Because of the kinds of decisions that need to be made in the process from single cell to space traveling civilization, teachers have the opportunity to use the game to simulate a variety of interactions between different groups. Users must decide how they will connect with other tribes and eventually other “countries.”

Already my son is busy haggling with neighboring civilizations over energy, natural resources and boundary disputes. As a social studies teacher, can I use those simulated conversations to lead kids into valuable discussions about the current situations in Georgia or Pakistan? How about some small group work dealing with US energy policy? Or student projects that focus on environmental issues?

I think Spore, like many other games and simulations, provides a great tool to increase student engagement and critical thinking. A group calling itself SPORelearning has already been created over at the Ning network that is discussing appropriate ways to incorporate Spore into the classroom. I expect their experience and conversation will produce some wonderful tools.